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The central legal action taken by the anarchists' attorneys after the verdict was to petition the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois to grant a Writ of Error. A Writ of Error is an order from a higher court to a lower court to furnish the record of a trial or other legal proceeding in order that the higher court can examine the case for errors. Based on its findings, the higher court may reverse, correct, or affirm the lower court's judgment. The defense had laid the basis for such a writ by entering into the record its many exceptions to Judge Gary's rulings.
With State's Attorney Grinnell's agreement, the defense also asked and received from Judge Gary a stay of execution of the sentence, pending the Supreme Court's decision whether or not to issue the writ. Gary, and even a few public officials who did not approve of the conduct of the trial but were fearful that a reversal and a retrial would risk further social unrest, were not pleased with the prospect of a review of the case. But there was little public fear of the outcome of a review, which many expected the Supreme Court to grant in a case as urgent, lengthy, complicated, and contested as this one.
The defense lawyers, headed by Captain Black, presented their arguments for issuing the writ in early November before Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice John M. Scott. By this point the defense committee had replaced William Foster with the seventy-one-year-old Leonard Swett, whose extensive experience and sterling reputation they hoped would help shorten the long odds against winning an appeal, assuming the writ was issued. The venerable Swett had been an associate of Abraham Lincoln, a founder of the Republican Party, and an outspoken opponent of slavery. After the Civil War he moved upstate to Chicago, where he became one of the leading lawyers in the city. In 1877 he had been among those who advocated the summoning of troops and volunteer patrols to protect the city from the mob.
On November 25, 1886—Thanksgiving Day—Chief Justice Scott granted the writ, which was quickly certified in official documents now in the archives of the Circuit Court of Cook County. These include this Supersedeas, which officially made the Writ of Error serve as a stay in the proceedings (including the executions), pending the review by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The handwritten text at the top of the first page reads as follows:
After inspecting the foregoing transcript of the record, the undersigned, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the State, is of opinion there is reasonable ground for granting the Writ of Error applied for in the cause. It is therefore ordered that a Writ of Error be granted in this cause: And it is further ordered that the Writ of Error herein ordered to be issued be a Supersedeas as to each and every one of the plaintiffs in Error, Viz: August Spies, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Albert R. Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, and Oscar W. Neebe: And shall have the effect as provided in Section One (1) Division 15. Criminal Code R.S. 1874, page 414, to stay the execution of the judgment pronounced by the Criminal Court of Cook County against each of said plaintiffs in Error, until the further order of the Superior Court in this cause. It is further ordered that the Clerk of the Supreme Court in the Northern Grand Division, upon the filing of this transcript of the record in his office, shall immediately issue the Writ of Error and Supersedeas as herein ordered, in accordance with the provision of the section of the statute above cited.
Done at Bloomington this twenty-fifth day of November A.D. Eighteen Hundred and Eighty six (1886)
John M. Scott
Chief Justice Supreme Court